Chapman University's Guggenheim Gallery Hosts Women-Centric Exhibit That's Patronizing When It's Not Boring

The title of Guggenheim Gallery's exhibition “My Skin Is My Krustle (Pink Marble)” pays homage to the toughness of women, equating rock with soft flesh (I think, since I couldn't find the word krustle online anywhere but as a misspelled derivation of a Pokémon character). The narrative thread of the pretentious “women's art” here speaks less to empowerment than to stereotypical feminine concerns such as makeup, dating and buying stuff, most pieces failing as feminist statements or as art. Blame the artists, but a bigger finger needs to be pointed at the lazy curation by gallery director Marcus Herse, who I can only assume chose the work without having seen any of it.

Blocked off into five areas, the exhibition space is video-centric, each viewing area featuring more than one chair or floor pillow, allowing for multiple viewers, though Herse hasn't bothered to supply more than one set of headphones per monitor. The shortest video logs in at four minutes, while others go on as long as half an hour, so it's reasonable to assume that not too many people are going to wait around to share one pair of headphones. Factor in that the volume on one of the projected pieces is loud enough to overpower the sound on all of the pieces featuring headphones—which are all barely audible, anyway—and after those three strikes, there's no real reason to bother.

Jennifer Sullivan's Soliloguy features her alone at a waterfront, reading a book and wearing sunglasses, resembling a fashion model on holiday. Overlaid into the video is a shot of her wearing a wedding veil and reading what sounds like an OkCupid ad. It's funny and more than a little sad when she says, “I have been in therapy for over 12 years now, and I feel like I'm making progress,” in between comments about her cat, her favorite music and her vagina, as her phone number drifts slowly across the screen. It will make anyone searching for the right man or woman shudder and chuckle at its familiarity. Lila De Magalhaes' To call my own is a chaotically edited series of scenes: balloons floating in a pool or resting on the floor of a garage; slushy pink drinks in large glasses; a creepy man wearing pink makeup and nylons, trying to sell the person holding the camera on the garage space as an artist's studio. It could be an ode to Virginia Woolf's room of one's own, the tribulations of trying to find work space, or it could be a sloppily put together treatise on harassment, but there's no payoff.

Lynda Benglis' 1973 video of two women kissing and tonguing each other's bodies, Female Sensibility, had to have been pretty provocative at its debut. It's still startling for its candor, and its collaged soundtrack of sexist talk radio, country music and religious programming juxtaposes what we're hearing with what we're seeing to powerful effect, but any mood it creates evaporates amid the volume blast from De Magalhaes' inane film next door. Young Joon Kwak's HD video Makeup Play trades off some of the same provocation as Benglis, taking the application of makeup and turning it into a mud-wrestling match/make-out session between two women, but it's a sloshing peep show in comparison, more likely to appeal to fetishists than to more experimental lesbian audiences.

In the other room, Carmen Argote's video and papier-mâché installation features four tiny, handmade theater stages, each with a red curtain, and two TV screens. Each theater is blandly made, painted a muddy beige—save one using corrugated materials that resemble honeycomb—all of them draped with the accouterments of traditional femininity: necklaces, perfume boxes, deodorant, hand lotion, wigs, makeup and pictures of male movie stars, all mixed with a hoarder's paradise of junk looted from her sister's collection. The theme of familial display is a feature of Argote's past work, continuing here with a video, Everything is in its place, but everything is everywhere. The film follows her sibling around a cluttered room as she listens to music, tries on masks and sorts through junk, but gets distracted and doesn't finish. Its 30 minutes make its point in 10. Her other video, Arranging the Alex Theatre, superimposes different angles of her sister placing necklaces and jewelry on a theater installation not included in the show. It has the same effect as the half-hour video, despite any insight into process. Get thee to an editing room, please.

Herse throws everything at the wall, hoping something will stick, and as you wander from space to space, video to video, nothing really does. The curator doesn't label any of the works, didn't have press photos a couple of weeks after the opening, and neglects to provide much context for the work aside from his press release. Considering he has been responsible for putting together at least two previous shows on feminist concerns that were impeccable, it feels as though he's going through the motions or simply doesn't give a shit. And if he doesn't care, why should we?

“My Skin Is My Krustle (Pink Marble)” at Chapman University's Guggenheim Gallery, 1 University Dr., Orange, (714) 997-6729; Open Mon.-Fri., noon-5 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Through Sept. 25. Free.

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